GoAbroad Interview

Roni Sivan - Coordinator of Customized Programs

Born in Israel and raised in Austin, Texas, Roni returned to Israel to complete her high school education, exposing her to a very distinct mix of cultures early on. While earning a degree in Art History at NYU, she also had the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, not to mention she ventured through South America on a solo backpacking escapade. Her mixture of experiences abroad inspired her to become involved in the field of international education, where she is now settled as both Program Manager for API programs in Bhutan and Coordinator of Customized Programs.

Academic Programs International study abroad stuff at the Irazu Volcano

API staff at Irazu Volcano.

You have a background in Art History from New York University, how did you transition from the art world to international education?

I had my first taste of international education early on, as I attended an international high school in Israel where I was surrounded by friends from all over the world. Then I studied abroad for a year in Florence during my time at NYU. While I tested the art world out for a while working at a gallery in Tel Aviv (international art, of course!), it was a solo backpacking trip through South America the following year that made me realize that I wanted to work more directly in the field of international exchange.

You claim both Austin and Tel Aviv as home, how did you get connected with API?

I was born in Israel, grew up in Austin, and finished high school in Israel. I did a lot of back and forth between the two places until I decided to settle back in Austin in 2006 to pursue a career. After a few years working with inbound international students at a visa sponsor agency, I wanted to shift gears and work to encourage U.S. students going abroad. A friend of mine worked at API at the time, and she encouraged me to apply for the position on the customized programs team.

You studied abroad in Italy, but you now manage API’s program in Bhutan, what is your experience with South Asia?

Before I started working at API, I took another backpacking trip—this time through Southeast Asia. I spent months traveling and eating my way through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I fell in love with Cambodia instantly and extended my stay there to volunteer in schools and different remote villages. Since that experience, I have stayed connected with the region and travel there every year through the scarf business I started, krama wheel, which employs Cambodian weavers and gives children access to education. So when Bhutan was announced as API’s newest program site, I wanted to be a part of getting students to a part of the world that is close to my heart.

A volunteer riding a train to Heredia.

Local train to Heredia, Costa Rica.

What does a typical day look like as a Coordinator of Customized Programs for API?

A typical day does not exist in my world! I work on dozens of programs at once, all at different stages of development, so on any given day I could be brainstorming with a professor, Skyping with an API resident director about a program itinerary, writing up a contract, preparing pre-departure materials for students…this list could go on and on. Needless to say, it is never boring in our corner of the office.

What’s the most exciting part about developing, managing, and implementing the customized programs you work with Universities to create?

The most exciting part is that each program is unique and comes with its own set of needs and challenges.

What makes API’s Bhutan program unique, and what type of student is a good fit for the program?

The Bhutan program is such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in a magical country that is still relatively untouched by the outside world…and without the hefty $250/day tourist fee. Our students get to live on campus alongside Bhutanese students and enroll in classes (taught in English) with them. I think the program is a great fit for students who already have experience abroad and are independent and adventurous. The Himalayas are in your backyard so it is an outdoors(wo)man’s dream!

In your LinkedIn profile you use the byline, “champion of wanderers + wonderers,” how do you do this on a daily basis in your role at API?

On a daily basis I am supporting people in their dreams of expanding their physical, intellectual and emotional horizons. Whether it’s a professor who wants to take a group of students to Buenos Aires for the first time, or a student whose dream it is to study in Bhutan, I am their champion throughout the process.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your role at API?

Nothing brings me more satisfaction than making ideas come to life. So to take a professor’s idea for a program and turn it into a reality is really fulfilling. Of course I don’t do it all on my own, and I am lucky to get to work with a rockstar team of resident directors around the world who play an enormous role in making each program a success.

If you could go on any API program right now, which would you chose?

Bhutan. Obviously! If this was an option for me back in my college days, I would have jumped at the chance. Hopefully I will get there soon to experience the magic firsthand.

We hear you have an affinity for Swedish Indie pop, where did this love come from?

Over the years I have come across many bands that I love, and more often than not they turned out to be Swedish. Maybe it’s their affinity for the glockenspiel—I love a good glock beat. Or maybe it’s my Swedish blood (that term seems fitting since I’m of half Scandinavian/half Transylvanian descent).

What’s your favorite place to listen to music in Austin?

They are excellent performers and I’m lucky to live in a place where I’ve been able to see some of my favorites in person. The Mohawk is a great outdoor venue in town. My absolute favorite Austin music experience is getting to see a live taping of the Austin City Limits TV show—I have yet to catch a Swedish band there though.